When performing grant evaluations, our clients develop specific project objectives to drive attainment of overall grant goals. We work with principal investigators (PIs) to monitor work plan activities and project outcomes to ensure objectives are attainable, measurable, and sustainable.

However, what happens when the project team encounters obstacles to starting the activities related to project objectives? What shifts need to be made to meet grant goals?

When the team determines that the project objective cannot be achieved as initially planned, it’s important for the PI and evaluator to determine how to proceed. In the table below, we’ve highlighted three scenarios in which it may be necessary to shift, change, or eliminate a project objective. Then, if changes are made, based on the extent of the project objective modifications, the team can determine if or when the PI should notify the project funder.

Example: Shift in Project Objective

Grant Goal Help underclassmen understand what engineers do by observing the day-to-day activities of a local engineer.
Problem The advisory board members (engineers) in the field were unavailable.
Objective Current: Shadow advisory board member. Change: Shadow young engineering alumni.
Result The goal is still attainable.
PI Notify Funder No, but provide explanation/justification in the end-of-year report.

Example: Change a Project Objective

Grant Goal To create a method by which students at the community college will earn a credential to indicate they are prepared for employment in a specific technical field.
Problem The state process to establish a new certificate is time consuming and can’t occur within the grant period.
Objective Current: Complete degree in specific technical field. Change: Complete certificate in specific technical field.
Result The goal is still attainable.
PI Notify Funder Yes, specifically contact the funding program officer.

Example: Eliminate the Project Objective

Grant Goal The project participant’s salary will increase as result of completing specific program.
Problem Following program exit, salary data is unavailable.
Objective Current: Compare participant’s salary at start of program to salary three months after program completion. Change: Unable to maintain contact with program completers to obtain salary information.
Result The goal cannot realistically be measured.
PI Notify Funder Yes, specifically contact funding program officer.

In our experience working with clients, we’ve found that the best way to minimize the need to modify project objectives is to ensure they are well written during the grant proposal phase.

Tips: How to write attainable project objectives.

1. Thoroughly think through objectives during grant development phase.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) provides guidance to assist PIs with constructing realistic project goals and objectives. Below, we’ve linked to the NSF’s proposal development guide. However, here are a few key considerations:

  • Are the project objectives clear?
  • Are the resources necessary to accomplish the objectives clearly identified?
  • Are their barriers to accessing the resources needed?

2. Seek evaluator assistance early in the grant proposal process.

Link to additional resources: NSF – A Guide for Proposal Writing

About the Authors

Evelyn Brown

Evelyn Brown box with arrow

Director, Extension Research and Development NC State Industry Expansion Solutions

Evelyn Brown leads the research and development efforts for NC State Industry Expansion Solutions (IES). She works to develop relationships with faculty whose research can be applied to solve problems for North Carolina businesses. Evelyn is part of the evaluation services team at Industry Expansion Solutions, which provides formative and summative assessments for statewide projects and grant-funded projects. She comes to Industry Expansion Solutions after 18 years in academia and has a B.S. in mathematics, an M.S. in operations research, and a Ph.D. in systems engineering. She has also served as an ABET evaluator since 2011.

Leressa Suber

Leressa Suber box with arrow

Evaluation Coordinator NC State Industry Expansion Solutions

Leressa Suber coordinates project planning for research and evaluation projects with NC State Industry Expansion Solutions. Leressa contributes to the data collection, qualitative analysis, and report writing of workforce development, community college, and STEM programs. She has worked on grant-funded evaluation projects, including two U.S. Department of Labor Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training projects, two Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation projects, and one NASA STEM Alliance project. Leressa has a background in human resources and adult education. She holds an M.S. in occupational and technical studies and a B.S. in business education.

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